Little boy with ‘mystery’ illness gets gift of grip

Published: Apr. 30, 2017 at 11:05 PM CDT
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The smallest things can bring about the biggest reactions.

Friday, it was Liam Young, a near four-year-old from Louisburg Wisconsin, seeing his new prosthetic hand move. He had pure amazement in his eyes. Tears were in his father's.

"It's been almost a year and a half since we have been able to see Liam move his fingers," said Liam's dad, Chris Young.

Liam lost that ability back in 2015. The little boy was fighting a mystery disease that nearly killed him.

"The doctor, he came in the room," said Chris back in December of 2015. "He looked at Liam. He looked at me and said, 'I already called the helicopter. They're on their way. He's critically ill.'"

Doctors at the University of Iowa were able to save Liam's life, but not before the illness took his toes and all ten of his fingers.

He now faces the challenge of learning a new normal. Liam has spent hours and hours in therapy and had more than 1100 hospital procedures in all.

Over time, his independence has returned, but the young boy is aware some things are still missing.

"Liam makes the comment every once and awhile that he wants his fingers back," said Chris.

Heartbreaking for parents to hear. Liam's mom, Angee Young, couldn't bear it and started searching for a prosthetic option-- which can be an expensive one.

"I never realized how many children were born without fingers."

Enter Bruce Newell, a retired engineer who works with a national nonprofit "Enabling the Future."

Out of Bruce's tiny shop in a Waterloo Goodwill, he makes prosthetic hands and arms. Each plastic appendage is 3D printed, then handed over to someone free of charge. His first customer was a little girl.

"Just to see the smile on the child's face was fantastic," said Bruce.

That feeling pushed the engineer to continue the work for five years, now. Bruce has made about 100 prostheses, some going across the globe to those in other countries.

Angee heard about Bruce's group during her search for help. She got in touch, and now Liam has a pair of his own-- which he calls his "Iron Man" hands.

"In case a tornado goes toward our house," said Liam holding up a prosthetic hand, "I need to block it."

Liam received the gift of grip. He'll need to take a little time and practice to get the hang of the new hands. What will be hard for the family, finding a way to say thank you.

"It was a great feeling," said Chris. "I'm glad Liam got this opportunity."

Liam's parents say they still don't know what the mysterious infection was. Researchers are investigating.